When he was growing up in Ohio, Eric Kripke was into two things common to most adolescent males: TV shows and cars. And when they combined, all the better.
“I grew up at an age when the television shows that I really connected to were shows in which they always had a signature car,” says Kripke.
“Whether it was ‘Knight Rider’ or ‘Magnum P.I.’ or ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ – all of these shows always had a character that was a car, and I always really responded to that.”
So when it came time for Kripke to create one of his own series, the dramatic thriller “Supernatural,” he had that childhood memory in mind.
For his main characters, brothers Dean and Sam Winchester (played by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki) who search for – and battle – the evil forces of the paranormal that go bump in the night, the producer wanted to find the right vehicle to ferry them from place to place. His approach was based on just on the crop of programs he had watched in the ’80s but also from an even earlier period of TV lore. “We always have thought of this show in terms of a Western,”
Kripke says. “We say it’s a modern American Western – two gunslingers who ride into town, fight the bad guys, kiss the girl and ride out into the sunset again. And we were always talking from the very beginning that if you’re going to have cowboys, they need a trusty horse.”
At first, Kripke was planning on having the Winchester boys driving around in what many see as the traditional ride for tough guys, a ’60s-era Ford Mustang. He was dissuaded of that scenario thanks to a conversation with a neighbor, a mechanic who “pimped out” classic vehicles. “He looked at me very deadpan and said, ‘(The Mustang is) a great choice if you’re a (wimp)!’ And I said, ‘Whoa! I don’t want to be a (wimp)! What car should I choose?’ And without missing a beat, he said, ‘You want a ’67 Chevy Impala because you can put a body in that trunk.’”
Armed with that vivid nugget of info, Kripke did some quick online research on the Impala and came away swayed. “What I love about the car is that it’s an aggressive-looking car,” he says. “It’s the kind of car where if it pulled up next to you at a stoplight, you would reach over and subtly lock your door. It’s a Rottweiler of a car, and I think it adds authenticity for fans of automobiles because of that, because it’s not a pretty ride. It’s an aggressive, muscular car, and I think that’s what people respond to, and why it fits so well into the tone of our show.”
It’s done more than that. The Impala, with its sleek but rugged black paint job and a trunk that’s been converted into a versatile weapons armory, has become the de facto third main character of “Supernatural,” complete with its own fan following. More than 200 videos dedicated to the car currently can be found on YouTube, including an ambitious effort with a soundtrack that features AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” and REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling.”
And when the Impala was broadsided (with the Winchester boys inside) by a demon-possessed tractor-trailer in the first season’s finale, the concern of the viewers seemed to concentrate on one thing more than any other. “Over that summer a few people were concerned whether the main characters would survive, but everybody was concerned about whether the Impala would make it,” says Kripke with more than a hint of amusement in his voice. “We were hearing a lot on blogs and Web sites, like, ‘Please bring the Impala back, you have to bring the Impala back.’”
Obviously, the Impala – affectionately nicknamed “Metallicar” by the “Supernatural” audience – was back the following season good as new. Kripke is no fool, and he knows a drawing card when he sees one. “Look, I’m more emotionally connected to the look and style of that car as anyone,” he says. “I love that car. So I understand it. And it’s the same reason that people were so connected to the horses in Westerns. They’re real characters; they are something that are in everybody’s lives; they’re personified – people feel great affection toward their cars, and they feel great affection toward this car.”
Still, there do seem to be some limits to that affection. Kripke has been trying to convince the merchandise folks at Warner Bros., which produces “Supernatural,” to create a die-cast model of the Impala for potential collectors – this idea from a man who had models of the Batmobile and James Bond’s Aston-Martin when he was a kid. “I want a toy Metallicar,” Kripke says. “But for some reason, I can’t get (Warn